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Firefighters make same council pick

(ran PC edition)

Like last year, the union endorses Mike Bussell. Firefighter Tim Ippolito says he's not surprised or disappointed.

For the second year in a row, the Zephyrhills Professional Firefighters Union will endorse Mike Bussell for City Council.

"We just think he's the man," said union president Shawn Baptist. "He knows what's going on, not only with us but with the rest of the city. We feel like he'll listen and make fair decisions."

A year ago, Bussell lost in his bid against incumbent Elizabeth Geiger. This year, he's taking on incumbent Tim Ippolito, a lieutenant with the Tampa Fire Department.

Although Ippolito is a firefighter _ and in a union himself _ he never expected to get the union's endorsement. Last February, Ippolito caught a wave of criticism when he voted to give the firefighters union a 5 percent raise, rather than the 10 percent raise that police officers had received in 1998.

Many local firefighters haven't spoken to him since then. But Ippolito says he doesn't regret his vote and would do it again. He simply regrets voting at all instead of citing a conflict of interest.

Although he was disappointed with the endorsement of Bussell, he wasn't surprised.

"I didn't think they would support me," Ippolito said. "They want somebody up there they can manipulate. But as a council member, you can't just deal with one department. There's more than just the fire department. There's a whole city."

Bussell, whose son is a firefighter in Sarasota, said he was pleased to have the union's endorsement again this year. Other than his loss last year, every candidate endorsed by the union since it formed in 1998 has won.

"I know they are a special group of men and women, and I respect them for what they do," Bussell said. "I'm not a "yes' man, but I do have their best interests in mind."

Ippolito did push for an increase in the residency requirements for firefighters from 5 miles to 35 miles from the city limits. Other then that, he hasn't backed the union, Baptist said.

"We were grateful for what he did about the resident requirements," he said. "But that was only one out of 11 or 12 issues. Tim's a good guy, but we just feel like he's not doing anything to benefit us."

So firefighters instead will campaign for Bussell, a Zephyrhills News employee. They will donate what money they can. But more important, they will hand out fliers, knock on doors and be at the polls on election day.

"We're all over it," Baptist said. "We'll do whatever it takes to get him in there."

Meanwhile, Ippolito took it all in stride.

"I spoke my heart and my mind, and I would do it again," he said. "Everything is going to be fine, no big deal. Either way, I'm not going to pout about it. Life does go on."

_ Brady Dennis covers Zephyrhills and police in east Pasco. His phone number is (352) 521-5757, ext. 23. His e-mail address is dennissptimes.com.

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